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Annual Winter Sports Clinic Gives Disabled Vets A Chance To Find Community On The Ice

Rebecca Sananes
A disabled veteran skates across the James W. Campion III Rink in West Lebanon, N.H. as part of the annual New England Winter Sports Clinic for Disabled Vets. Instead of balancing on two blades, players sit in sleds and balance on one.

Veterans from all over the region will be skiing, snowboarding and skating in the Upper Valley this week for the annual New England winter sports clinic for disabled veterans. 

Vets of varying physical abilities will be taking to the slopes over the next week — but first, they'll be hitting the ice.

It turns out, you don't need two skates to play ice hockey.

David Santamore glides effortlessly in his one-blade-skate-sled around the James W. Campion III Rink in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Santamore is a former Marine who fought in Vietnam. He's also one of the co-founders of the Ice Vets sled hockey team, a team of veterans who play ice hockey seated in a sled.

“Any time that you give someone who has gone through a trauma of some sort an opportunity to get back into a community, then they see success in that and it overflows into the rest of their life," he says, sitting in his sled between taking laps around the rink.

Every once in a while, Santamore says a therapist will be hesitant to let veteran patients miss appointments in exchange for some time on the ice, but he says sports can be the best type of therapy.

“The feedback that we get from those people is we couldn't have accomplished this in months," he explains. "So it's a tremendous way to get someone back into action, if you will."

"Any time that you give someone who has gone through a trauma of some sort an opportunity to get back into a community, then they see success in that and it overflows into the rest of their life." — David Santamore, co-founder of the Ice Vets sled hockey team

On the side of the rink, volunteers help place people into sleds. Some players remove prosthetic limbs, or climb out of wheelchairs.

Brooke Robinson-Drew, a recreational therapist at the White River Junction VA, works closely with veterans playing sled-hockey.

“I think sled hockey has a great benefit because it allows everyone to play at the same level," she says. "We try to put everyone in a sled. So if you walk in off the side of the street – or roll in – we have people that take their leg off and just leave it on the side.”

“The vets definitely appreciate being able to be back out there playing a team sport with other veterans," she adds.

Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR
Sled hockey players wear traditional hockey gear, while seated in single-blade sleds.

Shannon Blake is trying sled-hockey for the first time. He straps into a sled with a single blade on the bottom and begins to explain the game:

“Well, you're on a sled with a couple short sticks and the full get up — hockey gear — and you're sitting down, kind of pushing yourself along, pretty much all upper-body [strength],” he says, getting used to his new vehicle. "It's pretty amazing."

Blake, who served in Afghanistan and now lives in Shelburne, Vermont, says being in a team environment has been terrific for him:

“It's important on several levels: one, to be with other veterans – other combat-disabled veterans – and also for the fitness and health and wellness," Blake says, before pushing off to get his bearings on the ice.

On Wednesday, veterans will be at Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury, New Hampshire for skiing, kayaking and air rifle shooting events as part of this year's clinic.       

Rebecca Sananes was VPR's Upper Valley Reporter. Before joining the VPR Newsroom, she was the Graduate Fellow at WBUR and a researcher on a Frontline documentary.
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